Junior athlete Gift Leotlela stunned Olympic champion Wayde van Niekerk with a late burst to win the 100m in Bloemfontein last night, but his victory was marred by a faulty timing system.
Only long-jumper Luvo Manyonga, silver medallist at last year’s Rio Games, could have full confidence in the results, sailing to an impressive 8.46m, the early world lead for this year.
But it was a disaster for the sprinters – the electronic system at this Athletics SA Speed Series meet hit an embarrassing speed wobble.
First it dished out a national 110m hurdles record to Ruan de Vries as well as three lightning times to unheralded sprinters in the 100m B-race, and then it went on the blink in the premier event.
“I think I went faster than the B race,” 18-year-old Leotlela said, eager to hear what his time was, although all he got to hear was that it was a handtimed 10.0. No electronic times were available. Van Niekerk and third-placed Emile Erasmus were each given 10.1. Hand timing cannot be used for world championship qualifying in the 100m.
“I needed to run against fast guys to see where I am with my fitness level,” Leotlela, who competed in the 200m at the Olympics, said.
Finishing second in a domestic meet was a new experience for Van Niekerk, the reigning Olympic and world 400m champion.
“It’s a tough one to swallow, but I need to keep in mind I need to be patient. It’s still early days for me.
“I still have a lot of hard work to do,” he said, adding he planned to compete in the 100m, 200m and 400m at the Free State champs at the weekend.
Van Niekerk admitted he was still “raw” from the appearances, travelling and niggles.
“Technically, I’m very rusty, but I’m going to work on it.”
In the 100m B-race, Leroux van Tonder’s electronic time was 10.09 and runner-up Keenan Michau 10.12, which meet the qualifying standard for the world championships in London in August.
Third-placed Hendrik Maartens clocked 10.15, which would have qualified him for last year’s Olympics.
None of the three men had ever run faster than 10.40 before last night.
De Vries admitted he was surprised by his 13.23sec 110m hurdles SA record, which must still be ratified.
“I can’t believe it,” the 31-year-old, whose previous best was 13.59 from 2013, said. Manyonga, however, was beaming. He came here without any goals, but he changed his mind quickly and went after Khotso Mokoena’s 8.50m SA record.
“I was going for the kill today because I felt it on the first jump.”
On his second attempt he hit 8.37m, the distance that earned him second spot at the Olympics.
He was four centimetres short by the end of the evening, but he was high in confidence.
“I was chasing it,” he said. “On one no-jump I over-stepped by 2cm or something, but I asked them to measure it – it was 8.72m.
“I’m expecting the SA record for this season and a gold medal at the world championships.”